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Best gaming routers of 2021

Best gaming routers
(Image credit: Netgear)

The best gaming routers deliver optimal speeds and connectivity for the most competitive gamers. Like every other part of modern life, today's gamer needs a speedy internet connection pretty much all the time, but there's more to it than mere connectivity. Online gaming requires a stable and fast connection, but it also needs to maintain that connection when other people and devices compete for bandwidth.

Gaming routers do more than provide consistent speeds. Minimizing lag keeps you in the game without being bogged down by a slow connection. Bandwidth prioritization ensures that your game won't be interrupted when someone else in the house fires up Netflix. They provide customization at a higher level than most consumer routers. And they provide great security features, making sure that malicious hackers or unwanted malware never prevent your next gaming session.

Of the dozens of routers we test and review each year, only a handful are considered dedicated gaming routers. Here are the best of the best, a selection of the best gaming routers we've reviewed, as well as a handful of less specialized devices that still offer the same sort of throughput and low lag times that gamers require.

What are the best gaming routers?

The best gaming router overall is the Asus RT-AX86U, a Wi-Fi 6 powerhouse that delivers category-leading performance and a wealth of features that let gamers fine-tune their Wi-Fi to perfection.

The best Wi-Fi 5 gaming router is the TP-Link Archer C5400X, a one-time performance leader that's still a great buy for anyone looking for an inexpensive option for solid gaming performance. It's not the best you'll get, but it's significantly less expensive than Wi-Fi 6 units that you might not be able to take full advantage of yet.

Read on for all of our picks for the best gaming routers.

The best gaming routers right now

Best gaming routers: Asus RT-AX86U router

Asus RT-AX86U router (Image credit: Asus)

1. Asus RT-AX86U

The best gaming router overall

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: Wi-Fi 6/Dual-band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 3/Yes
Ports: 1 WAN/1 Multi-Gig WAN/ 4 LAN gigabit per second, 2 USB 3.0
Peak Throughput: 929.7Mbps
Size: 9.0 x 6.7 x 3.1 inches
Reasons to buy
+Excellent throughput+Security software with lifetime updates+Multi-Gig input and port aggregation+Customization options
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks specialized tools like geofencing and ping heat map

When it comes to the best gaming router, performance takes the prize. The Asus RT-AX86U is a Wi-Fi 6 powerhouse that delivers great speeds and killer gaming features, as well as awesome customization options. With high-end performance and lifetime protection against intrusions and malware, it's also a great option for securing your entire home network, providing long term protection without a subscription fee, and carrying a two-year warranty.

But the real draw of the Asus RT-AX86U is the performance, which approaches the the magical 1Gbps mark to provide speedy and effortless connectivity for all of your devices. With excellent range and great performance – even through walls and between floors – the RT-AX86U is equal parts general-use router and elite gaming router, and the collection of features and ports it offers are a steal compared to some of the top-performing gaming gear. It even gets a nod as the runner up for best Wi-Fi router in the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards. If you want the best Wi-Fi 6 gaming router, the Asus RT-AX86U is it.

Read our full Asus RT-AX86U review

Best gaming routers: TP-Link Archer C5400X

TP-Link Archer C5400X (Image credit: TP-Link Archer C5400X (Credit: TP-Link))

The best Wi-Fi 5 gaming router

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: 802.11ac/Tri-Band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 8/No
Ports: 1 WAN, 8 1-Gbps LAN, 1 USB 2.0
Peak Throughput: 859.5 Mbps
Size: 11.2 x 11.2 x 7.6 inches
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Triband design+Customization potential+Security software
Reasons to avoid
-Big-Can't aim antennas

The TP-Link Archer C5400X was once the gaming router to beat, and is still the top pick for gamers that don't want to pay more for Wi-Fi 6. With some of the best 802.11ac performance you'll see in any single home networking device, it offers best-in-class tri-band speeds, delivering 1Gbps over its 2.4GHz band and 2.167Gbps over each of its two 5GHz channels. It also has impressive coverage, with more than 100-feet of superb coverage that will blanket most homes in strong, clear Wi-Fi signal.

The spider-like 8-antenna design and red-on-black color scheme are sure to turn heads, but the real selling point is the collection of optimization and security features that will satisfy any power user. With excellent bandwidth-allocation controls to let you use the massive throughput as you wish, this router puts incredible performance into the user's hands, for gaming or anything else.

Read our full TP-Link Archer C5400X review

Best gaming routers: Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 router

Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 router (Image credit: Netgear)

3. Netgear Nighthawk XR1000

A great Wi-Fi 6 gaming router

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: Wi-Fi 6/Dual-band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 4/Yes
Ports: 1 WAN/4 LAN gigabit per second, USB 3.0
Peak Throughput: 860.7Mbps
Size: 11.6 x 7.9 x 2.5 inches
Reasons to buy
+Top Wi-Fi 6 performance at mid-range distances+Includes malware protection+Good configuration options+Top gamer’s tools and interface
Reasons to avoid
-No Multi-Gig input or port aggregation-90-day support policy and extra charge for security updates

The Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000 is powerful, with Wi-Fi 6 speeds that goes above and beyond most other gaming routers with excellent speeds and top-shelf gaming enhancements. The Netgear's high-throughput, low-latency design is packed with customization options and built-in security, providing protection against hackers along with superb Wi-Fi 6 performance. It's also great for slightly larger homes, with a range of 105 feet, easily covering that extra room that other routers can't quite reach. If your current router isn't keeping up with your gaming abilities, the XR1000 is one of the best gaming routers we've ever seen.

With an entire dashboard of customization tools, you can optimize the router's performance in a dizzying number of ways, from CPU usage monitoring to stats that identify what apps and devices are using the most data and connection tools that let you adjust connections by ping rates and location.

Read our full Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 review.

Best gaming routers: Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 (Image credit: Asus)

4. Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000

A tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: 802.11ac/Tri-Band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 8/Yes
Ports: 1 WAN, 4 1-Gbps LAN, 1 2.5-Gbps LAN, 2 USB 3.0
Peak Throughput: 731.4 Mbps
Size: 9.4 x 9.4 x 2.8 inches
Reasons to buy
+Performance improves with distance+Plenty of customization+Impressive 2.5Gbps wired connector
Reasons to avoid
-Large design

The first gaming router on the market to feature Wi-Fi 6, the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 is a gamer's delight, with speed that improves over longer range, low latency and all the features that gamers expect. Add it all up and most other gaming routers are now second best. 

The GT-AX11000 is large, with a gargantuan base, eight swiveling antennas, and massive 10.8Gbps maximum throughput. This wireless router has connectivity in droves, thanks to its tri-band design and four downstream Gigabit LAN ports, a single 2.5G Base T Ethernet connection, and two USB 3.0 ports. Built in customization and gaming-oriented optimizations provide plenty of control, and you can even pair it with other Asus routers for mesh networking to cover a larger home. At $450, it is expensive, but this is one of the best wireless routers for gamers wanting an edge online.

Read our full Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 review.

Best gaming routers: Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852)

Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) (Image credit: Netgear)

5. Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852)

Best mesh router for gamers

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: AX6000/Tri Band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 8/No
Ports: Router – 1 WAN/4 LAN; Satellite – 4 LAN
Peak Throughput: 883.6Mbps
Size: 10.0 x 7.5 x 2.8 inches
Reasons to buy
+Top Wi-Fi 6 mesh performance+Malware protection+Tri-band operation+Excellent wall and ceiling penetration
Reasons to avoid
-Large, bulky design-90-day support policy

When you've got a big home, a single router might not give you the Wi-Fi coverage  you need. In those instances, you want a mesh router, which uses several nodes to create a single seamless network that can cover the largest of homes. But they don't really make mesh routers specifically for gaming. While it may not offer all of the distinctive features that dedicated gaming routers have, the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) is a great mesh router that delivers the best throughput in the mesh category. With easy setup and Wi-Fi 6 speeds, the Orbi is the mesh router we recommend for gamers.

With tri-band coverage that can handle 5,000 square feet with only a two-pack consisting of a base unit and satellite extension, the RBK852 serves up category-leading performance with a strong signal that punched through ceilings, floors and walls with ease. In addition to massively improved speeds and handling of multiple devices, the Orbi also works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for seamless voice control throughout the house. When it comes to mesh Wi-Fi 6 devices, the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) is the one to beat.

Read our full Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 (RBK852) review.

Best gaming routers: Asus RT-AC86U

Asus RT-AC86U (Image credit: Asus)

6. Asus RT-AC86U

A high-performing AC router

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: Wi-Fi 5 AC2900
Number of Antennas/Removable: 4/3 Removable
Ports: 1 WAN/4LAN gigabit per second, USB 2.0, USB 3.0
Peak Throughput: 667.8Mbps
Size: 8.7 x 6.1 x 3.5 inches
Reasons to buy
+Excellent long-distance performance+Gaming and security optimizations+Excellent customizability+Built-in stand
Reasons to avoid
-Mediocre throughput at short range-Need to set up router with connected browser

Asus's RT-AC86U router may not be the top performer at short range but it more than makes up for that with its superb range. An 802.11ac router with a great combination of performance, security software and gaming enhancements, the RT-AC86U is in a class by itself with an excellent mix of value and performance.

The dual-band gaming router comes with lifetime internet security from Trend Micro, a wide selection of customization options, and some of the best performance you can get for under $200. And even though the performance is surpassed by other more expensive Wi-Fi 6 models, the RT-AC86U can deliver a safe and reasonably fast online experience for every family member. 

Read our full Asus RT-AC86U review.

Best gaming routers: TP-Link Archer AX6000

TP-Link Archer AX6000 (Image credit: TP-Link)

Best non-gaming router for gamers

Specifications
Wi-Fi Spec: Wi-Fi 6/Dual-band
Number of Antennas/Removable: 8/Yes
Ports: 1 WAN/8 LAN gigabit per second, USB 3.0, USB C
Peak Throughput: 884.4Mbps
Size: 10.3 x 10.3 x 2.4 inches
Reasons to buy
+8 LAN ports+Extra security+Inexpensive
Reasons to avoid
-Limited app-Hard to remove LAN cables

If you aren't sold on the need for dedicated gaming features, but still want the performance needed for online gaming, we recommendation the TP-Link Archer AX6000 router, our favorite budget-friendly Wi-Fi 6 router. The most affordable of the first generation of Wi-Fi 6 devices, the Archer AX6000 sells for roughly $100 less than other Wi-Fi 6 models, but offers strong throughput and great connectivity thanks to a full eight LAN ports.

You won't get the detailed quality of service controls that a gaming router would give you, but it will still support solid gaming-grade performance, easily exceeding the performance of older 802.11ac models. On top of that, the TP-Link Archer AX6000 includes built-in security, offering protection along with performance.

Read our full TP-Link Archer AX6000 review.

What's different about gaming routers?

But what makes a gaming router any different from a standard Wi-Fi router? They both serve up wireless internet for your computers, phones and gadgets, and they're based on the same wireless standards, so what else do gaming routers bring to the table? The answer: Plenty.

Throughput and Lag: The biggest difference is that gaming routers are built for both higher bandwidth and – more crucial for gamers – lower latency. In addition to letting more data flow in and out of your home, it lets it flow faster in both directions. The result is lower ping times, which measure the time it takes for a signal to travel from your gaming PC or console to the game servers. The result is a more responsive experience in online games.

Hardware: This enhanced performance is due to better hardware. A router is essentially a specialized computer that manages all of the connections and information packets in your home network, sorting and shifting them as necessary to connect your different devices. And like any computer, you'll get faster performance from better components. Gaming routers offer better-than-average processing power and larger built-in memory to allow for that faster performance, letting a router manage more connections while also keeping latency to a minimum.

Bandwidth management: Today's home is filled with connected devices, from PCs and game consoles to smart TVs and smartphones, and even refrigerators and other appliances. It makes for a crowded house full of bandwidth-hungry gadgets. All modern routers include some level of automatic bandwidth prioritization, so that your Netflix watching isn't slowed when your refrigerator needs to download an update, but gaming routers take this a step further with Quality of Service (QoS) features.

QoS features include more direct control of what bandwidth goes where, letting you prioritize specific devices (like your gaming rig), prioritize based on what activity or service is being used, and even to automatically re-adjust for time of day, number of devices, and more.

If the average router is like an automatic transmission that handles stop and go traffic without much fuss, then a gaming router is like a manual transmission, putting more control in the driver's hands when they're out on the track. Not everyone needs the increased control, but those who do swear by it.

Connectivity: A good gaming router is also built to handle faster connections and more of them. This also simply means more wired LAN ports (which offer faster speeds than Wi-Fi), more support for Gigabit speeds and higher, and extra antennas to push Wi-Fi farther and handle more devices with ease.

Combine all of these distinctive features and advanced capabilities, and it's pretty obvious why a dedicated gaming router is a smart choice for anyone that wants a competitive edge in online gaming, or just better support for a house filled with tech.

How to choose the best gaming router for you

While the above features give you a pretty good idea of what to look for in a gaming router, there are a few specific pieces of advice you'll want to bear in mind when shopping for a new one.

Speeds and standards: The best gaming routers generally embrace the latest and greatest technologies, and the biggest example of this is in Wi-Fi standards. The newest models use Wi-Fi 6, which is substantially faster than the previous 802.11ac standard (retroactively named Wi-Fi 5).

If you want to improve your gaming experience even on a slower broadband connection, you might be able to save a buck by opting for an older model with 802.11ac, but most will want to get the best connectivity they can, and should pay more for Wi-Fi 6. (Learn more in our article Wi-Fi 6: What it is and why it’s better)

You'll also want a router that can take full advantage of your broadband connection, and gigabit-speed internet service is the best you can get. But if you've got a connection that offers gigabit service, you have to have a similarly equipped router to actually take advantage of those speeds. (Learn more in our article What Is Gig-Speed Internet?)

Features: Beyond those basics, it's all about the features. Look into the details of a given router's QoS tools in our product reviews, look at the connectivity it offers – both in Wi-Fi range and physical ports – and find the mix of features that seem to best match your desired level of tinkering and control.

Price: The last big consideration is price. Gaming's not a cheap hobby, so the need to save a buck where you can is an understandable one. But cutting too close to the bone will leave you stuck with subpar performance or missing desired features.

On average, the top gaming routers will cost more than a standard Wi-Fi router, usually in the $300-400 range. However, there are ways to save a buck that won't leave you with a less capable device. Older devices that meet the necessary specifications should still satisfy your need for speed and features at a lower price. And don't forget about sales events, which can bring big savings.

How we test gaming routers

We test every router – gaming or otherwise – with a collection of benchmark tests in our Utah and New York facilities, using Ixia's IxChariot software to measure how much data it can move at several distances, confirm true usable Wi-Fi range, and generally determine how well it performs. We also test how well each router transmits and receives signals through drywall, brick, concrete and even metal walls; and how each handles coverage of a two- or three-story home.

Gaming routers get additional testing, with real-world gaming, measuring latency and trying the various settings and features available on the device, including QoS and game enhancement features. Other factors used in evaluating the routers include ease of setup and use, software features and available ports.

Check out all of our home networking coverage:

Best Wi-Fi routers | Best mesh routers | Best Wi-Fi 6 routers | Best Wi-Fi extenders | Best powerline extenders | Best cable modems  

Brian Westover
Brian Westover is an Editor at Tom's Guide, covering everything from TVs to the latest PCs. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he wrote for TopTenReviews and PCMag.